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Acer Timeline U3 and Nvidia 600M mobile GPU review

Acer Timeline U3

Acer first out the gate with Timeline Ultrabook

We might still be waiting to see laptops powered by Intel’s latest processors, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a look at some of the components that will sit alongside them when they launch later in the year. With this in mind, we took a brief look at graphics manufacturer Nvidia’s upcoming 600M mobile graphics chips, to see what we can expect from laptops in 2012.

Based on the Keppler architecture used in the GTX680 desktop card, we’re expecting the mid-range GeForce GT640M, 650M and GTX 660M to make up the majority of Nvidia powered laptops when manufacturers begin to launch their new models. With a choice of 1 or 2GB of dedicated memory, support for the battery-saving Optimus graphics switching technology and the power to play modern games at high detail settings, they represent an exciting step forward for portable gaming on a sensible budget.

The high-end GTX 670m and 675m are essentially rebadged versions of last year’s GTX 580m and 570m, with a minor speed boost. This is no bad thing, as both were capable performers, but it does leave a gap at the very high end for a potential GTX 680m. The Nvidia rep we spoke to wouldn’t tell us if anything was in the pipeline, although considering Keppler has been in development for over two years it’s reasonably safe to assume a top-end card will appear towards the end of the year.

There’s plenty more we aren’t allowed to talk about until Intel lifts its Ivy Bridge embargo, but we were still able to get a hands-on with Acer’s Timeline U3 Ultrabook – the first laptop to use a GeForce GT640m GPU.

Acer Timeline U3

With an ultra-low voltage Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM, it’s more than capable of everyday tasks, but it really shines when combined with dedicated graphics. Nvidia had kindly installed Battlefield 3 for us to try – at 1,366×768 resolution and high detail settings, the frame rate was easily in the playable 30s. This is an incredible feat for a laptop that’s only 20mm thick.

The 15.6in screen and DVD optical drive might not scream Ultrabook, but the Timeline U3 is officially part of Intel’s thin-and-light brigade. It weighs around 2.3kg, which is significantly heavier than smaller Ultrabooks we’ve seen, but it still felt light enough for us to sling in a bag and take with us on the move.

Typing felt comfortable on its Chiclet-style keyboard, which is a significant step up from the old floating island style used in Acer’s previous laptops. We didn’t like the look of the all-in-one touchpad, but Nvidia had disabled it in favor of a mouse for better accuracy in Battlefield.

We’ll withhold judgement on the Timeline U3 until we get one into our labs for a closer look, but after our brief hands-on with it we can’t wait to see what other manufacturers will do with Nvidia’s new GPUs. They are powerful enough to play the latest games at high detail settings, but still squeeze into the thinnest of laptops. If you’re looking for a powerful all-round laptop, your options are about to get a lot more interesting.